Monday, April 30, 2007

Directions to Baghdad? No problem. Just take a right at Guernica and go straight for 70 years.

Look, what I don't know about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is A LOT. Other than a few famous paintings I studied in Art School, I never knew much. Oh, and there was that trippy movie Pan's Labyrinth... but I don't think General Francisco Franco really enlisted any flesh eating cave trolls... not literal ones anyway.

At any rate, the Spanish Civil War for Dummys summary is this: A democratically elected goverment (Republic/republicanos) was overthrown in a rebellion lead by Franco (Nationalists/nacionales). For the Republic, you had the Soviet Union. For Franco's Nationalists, you had the big dogs of facism: Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Nazi Germany.

America? Well for the most part she was sitting it out, except for a couple of thousand Americans who volunteered to fight in Spain (The Abraham Lincoln Brigade). American talk show host Father Charles Coughlin worked to build Franco support among his listenership. I assume because of the Republican government's crackdown on religons, including Catholics. There were a few more American's involved — The American-owned Vacuum Oil Company refused to help the Republicans, and Texas Oil Company supplied gasoline to Franco.

Some of these folks from The Abraham Lincoln Brigade (now in their 90s) say they went because they saw the struggle between facism vs. democracy was coming, and stopping Germany and Italy in Spain may stop them cold before a larger World War would escalate. So much for that. Survivors returning from the war were seen as communist supporters and were looked at closely by the American government during the "Red Scare" following World War II.

500,000 people died in the war, with standard issue atrocities being commited on both sides for a variety of reasons. In the end Franco won, and he led Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. Franco's legacy is mixed depending on who you talk to. Some think he pacified Spain, other think he was a tyrant. After he died Spain began to work it's way back to democracy.

As I mentioned, several famous pieces of art came from that period. The most famous is Pablo Picaso's Guernica, named for the city of Gernika that was flattened by the German Air Force on April 26, 1937. The painting has become an international symbol of civilian suffering during war.

Harry Belafonte (yeah, the Daaaaaaaaaaay-O "Banana Boat Song" guy... stay with me here) recently spoke in New York to surviving members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He noted their courage in the stuggle against facism and drew parallels between the facists of the 1930s and George Bush's Administration. Personally, I'm not quite prepared to go THAT far, but it's sadly telling that during Colin Powell's famous speech at the United Nations to outline reasons for us to whack Iraq, the large tapestry of Picasso's Guernica was covered up so it would not be visible in the background when Colin Powell and John Negroponte gave press conferences.

"It's only temporary. We're only doing this until the (TV) cameras leave," said Abdellatif Kabbaj, the chief U.N. media officer.

Wonder if Colin had a sense of irony. Maybe the figure on the far right of the painting with his hands flailing in the air represents Powell's reputation.

Friday, April 27, 2007

TIP OF THE HAT: Jon Stewart interviews John McCain

There's all kinds of statistics out there about people who are watching Comedy Central's The Daily Show for their news fix. While Jon Stewart himself regards his show as something closer to a political cartoon, I think many of his viewers know better. People know something isn't right with network and cable news. It's little more than compressed "tell it in two minutes" fluff, flying 3D graphics titles, and a banal obsession with all things superficial and/or tragic. As Don Henley's incensed insight from Dirty Laundry claimed: "It's interesting when people die." It's trite and phony.

In the age of corporate news acting as little more than political machinery, Stewart's earnest approach to the insanity of the day rings true.

At times, his Buster Keaton act fails him and the jokes are off the desk, as they did last Wednesday when John McCain tried to answer questions with talking points.

Stewart: All I'm saying is you cannot look a soldier in the eye and say questioning the president is less supportive to you than extending your tour for three months when you should be coming home to your family.

McCain: Every American..

Stewart: And that's not fair to put on people that criticize…

McCain: Jon…

Stewart: And you know I love you and respect your service and would never question any of that—this is not about questioning the troops and their ability to fight and their ability to be supported. And that is what the administration does and that is almost criminal.

As someone who used to like McCain (I even voted for him in the 2000 primary, albeit in order to use my vote to undermine Bush) I have found it sad and disappointing to see his slow eight year decent from "The Straight Talk Express" to... well... something that smells political... in the most pitiful sense of the word.

I'm grateful Jon was able to call him on it. He's one of the few journalists to do so, even if that's the last thing he'd want to be tagged as. As for McCain, time to get real again. Either way I doubt he'll be back on Comedy Central any time soon.

Haven't found it on YouTube, but you can catch the interview HERE.

TIP OF THE HAT: Diane Rehm

In a world where "Big-News" floods cable television with talking heads spewing politically biased crap-du-jour from their corporate task masters, there are still some real journalists to be found. One of the finest is Diane Rehm.

Monday through Friday, she has a two hour talk show dealing with a wide range of domestic and international topics. She is particularly good at bringing on guests from all sides of a given topic and knows what to ask them. She doesn't dodge handing out hard questions, and calls bullshit when someone tries to dodge giving an answer. She spends an hour on a topic, giving you plenty of detail from all angles. Best of all, though I would assume her to be right-leaning, she does not pomposusly inflict us with her own political agenda (read: RUSH).

She's not all politics either; many of her guests are authors, musicians, and artists. She almost got me to buy a Mary Chapin Carpenter Album last week. Almost.

Every Friday Diane sponsors a "Weekend Round-Up" where her and her guests review the big news items of the week and discuss. Best of all, if she isn't on a station in your area, you can download her shows FREE from her site: If you want to be an informed citizen, this show is not optional listening.

Plus she's kinda hot, in an old, super smart lady kind of way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hello world.

After hours and hours trying the best I can to gain some understanding of events national and global, I have come to a conclusion. I'm mad as HELL, and I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE.

Really, I am. And I can't stick a bumper sticker on my car and be done with it. I tried.

So here I will document, best I can, who I see as making life better, and who is making life, well... depressing to the point of inducing the lethargic anxiety that sends us into the flabby arms of American Idol, allowing us to dodge reality for a few minutes.

The name of the blog is based on a segment from the glorious Stephen Cobert's Cobert Report. In the segment he picks those worthy of admiration or scorn. As someone who has an endless supply of righteous indignation, I am more than happy to point a damning finger — or a pat on the back. I'm good like that.

So please read along, and comment back. If you think I am wrong, make a case for why that is so, and I may listen. Hey, I can take constructive criticism. You bastards.